Given that the title, ‘Rejoined’, clearly indicated that this would be a Jardzia Dax episode, and given my previous comments about the acting skills of Terry Farrell, I did not approach this episode with great expectations. But I was wrong to doubt, as this was another high-quality episode, with a strong, if muted message (without a B-story, please note), and Farrell was, against my expectations, better than up to the task of the emotions her part called for.
The open tried to make something of a mystery about what was to come. A Trill science team are coming to DS9 to try to create the Universe’s first artificial wormhole and Sisko is warning Dax of it, and offering her the chance to scoot off on leave for a month or two, because the project is headed by Dr Lenara Khan.
The inference is supposed to be that there is some hostility between Dax and Khan, and when they first meet (Susannah Thompson, looking very austere but fetching), the stiffness is apparent in how they don’t greet one another. But, given a lifetime of watching American television and understanding how they deploy their tricks, not to mention eighteen months of DS9, I got there ahead of the sting: Khan is Dax’s ex-wife.
The episode and the relationship was intended as an allegory for homosexuality and the ‘taboo’ against that, though I confess that that aspect went straight over my head. Given that I’m watching twenty years after the fact, in an era in which attitudes are far more relaxed (for however much longer), that may have been more than just insensitivity on my part, because given the force of the taboo imposed by trill society, my thoughts were directed to the Incest taboo. Especially given that the punishment for Reassociation, as the Trills saw it, was exile,and refusal of transplant for the symbionts – the imposition of a death sentence by a society built upon the needs of the symbionts, against their Trill hosts – was so severe, far more than any imposition on homosexuality even in the mid-Nineties.
And I was also defected from the intended allegory by the way that no-one seemed to think there was anything remotely wrong about two women falling for one another, which I thought advanced for American network TV of the era but appropriate for the future in which Star Trek occurs.
The story was put together to provide a firm basis for emotions that threatened to override so severe a taboo. Needless to say, neither Jardzia nor Lenara had any prior connection, but their symbionts had previously been married, but that Nilani Khan, Lenara’s immediate predecessor, had been married to Torias Dax, and that the marriage had ended with Torias’ death on a test flight his wife had warned him against undertaking.
So it had been a prematurely disrupted love, broken off at its heights, leaving considerable residual feelings that slowly but surely drew Jardzia and Lenara towards each other: unfinished business, the most painful and powerful.
Thompson was superb, and Farrell not half bad at showing two people with an immense attraction towards each other slowly relaxing more and more into first enjoyment and then an increasing dependency upon each other’s presence. The attraction is primarily emotional but, as if this were itself a taboo the show was hesitant in showing (which it was), it spilled over into the physical, with the actresses sharing sharing a long (closed mouth) kiss that I frankly didn’t expect. It was, apparently, one of the earliest lesbian kisses on American TV, though it came as part of a wave of gay themes and kisses (women only), and was the most controversial aspect of the episode.
But we always knew that it couldn’t last, that the relationship would have to end. After almost losing Khan in a project accident, from which Dax had to risk her own life to save her love, Jardzia was ready to abandon everything, to pay the penalty to be with Lenara. But Lenara wasn’t. Quite apart from the serial status quo that had to be restored, it was too soon, far too soon, to have two characters living together without punishment or pain in a lesbian relationship. She left. Dax stayed, looking on silently, being brave and heart-broken, an image that Terry Farrell sold beautifully.
‘Rejoined’ has been praised for the courage it took to do this at all, for the message of acceptance of a same-sex relationship that it presented, and criticised for its failure to go further. From twenty years on, I can sympathise with those who criticise the half-heartedness ‘Rejoined’ embodies, and maybe it could have been a little bolder, but in the context of the times, of American network television, it’s difficult to see it going much further.
And in reading up about this episode, the contrast is drawn with future events: when Farrell left DS9 after season 6, by which time she was in a relationship with Worf, it was suggested that Dax be joined to a male host, partly in order to re-explore this same question from the other side, but this was rejected. It was ever thus: female homosexuality, which always carried with it a frisson of titillation for a male audience, is far more acceptable than even the thought of two hairy, sweaty men…
Again, an excellent episode. I am really enjoying Deep Space Nine Tuesday at the moment.